-- When Philadelphia Flyers
forward James van Riemsdyk
was asked to recall the events that transpired in his last competitive hockey game in New Jersey prior to taking the ice Saturday at Prudential Center for the first time as a professional, he didn't miss a beat.
"I got the stretch pass from Eric Castellazzo, skated in and scored top side glove to win it in overtime," van Riemsdyk grinned.
What a memory.
It was during the 2004-05 New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association non-public schools championship game where van Riemsdyk's heroics gained him legendary status among the all-time scholastic greats of the Garden State. His dramatic goal with 6:17 left in the extra period would give Christian Brothers Academy of Lincroft a 2-1 victory over Delbarton of Morristown at the then home of the New Jersey Devils
, Continental Airlines Arena.
To this day, it's a goal he hasn't forgotten and neither have family, friends and classmates.
"Obviously it's a huge thrill (to be back in New Jersey) because the last competitive game I played here was the state championship game in high school my sophomore year, so to be back and playing in a another game that means something is pretty cool," van Riemsdyk said.
The rookie left wing, a native of Middletown, N.J., and second pick by the Flyers in 2007, had family members and friends galore cheering him on in his return, despite the fact he wore opposing colors.
The van Riemsdyk entourage certainly had plenty to cheer about as their hometown hero notched two assists and was named the third star during a 5-2 victory over the Devils. His first assist came after a slick feed through the neutral zone to Ian Laperriere
in the right circle that led to the second goal against Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur
While van Riemsdyk admitted the goal was "all Laperriere," his teammate viewed it differently.
"This kid is sick," Laperriere said. "You don't go second overall (in the Entry Draft) for no reason and, thinking back, when I first got here, I didn't even know who he was. But he had a great camp and he's doing stuff that veterans would do. He makes those little plays and it's fun to see a kid with that much poise, especially on your team."
Van Riemsdyk estimated that a little over 100 family members and friends were probably in attendance.
"My cell phone was lighting up constantly over the past couple of days with people telling me that they were going to be here tonight," van Riemsdyk said. "I'd say there were a little over 100 people here to watch me -- everyone I can imagine, from my family and friends, to my parents' friends and even my friends' friends. Having these people here makes it more of a fun situation because I'm from New Jersey and know a lot of people here. I was excited to just go out there and play."
Van Riemsdyk, who opened on the third line Saturday night alongside center Claude Giroux
and right wing Darroll Powe
, finished the game against the Devils with 17 shifts totaling 13:36. He opened his NHL career with an assist in a 2-0 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes
on Friday, earning 8:59 of ice time on 16 shifts.
Through two games, Flyers coach John Stevens
likes what he sees.
"I was curious to see him play in a pretty revved up regular-season game for the first time (on Friday in Carolina) and I thought he did pretty well," Stevens said. "He wasn't overwhelmed by the situation and still did a lot of the things we want to see. He was moving his feet, making strong plays on the wall and he attacked the net so the things we saw in the preseason were evident early.
"He needs to continue to be more fit, continue to work on his play away from the net and he needs to continue to try and be the hardest worker every night."
"Obviously it's a huge thrill (to be back in New Jersey) because the last competitive game I played here was the state championship game in high school my sophomore year, so to be back and playing in a another game that means something is pretty cool."
-- James van Riemsdyk
That's something van Riemsdyk knows will come with time and experience at the pro level.
"I do feel a lot more comfortable since I got the first game butterflies out there," van Riemsdyk said. "But I obviously have to keep playing hard and playing well. It was pretty cool to get on the score sheet (against Carolina) and get some confidence out there to prove you can contribute. But, obviously, you have to do a lot of things aside from just getting points to help the team win."
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound van Riemsdyk, 20, understands the steps he needs to take to gradually earn more playing time. Still, Flyers wing Simon Gagne
has actually compared van Riemsdyk to former Flyers winger and fan favorite John LeClair
, so the future looks bright.
"Coach Stevens told me just work hard and put in the effort and the rest would take care of itself," van Riemsdyk said. "He told me I have some skills with the puck, but he stressed my play without the puck. If I keep doing that than I'll be fine."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com